Khan also has released what he says is a copy of a North Korean official’s 1998 letter to him, written in English, that spells out details of the clandestine deal.
Some Western intelligence officials and other experts have said that they think the letter is authentic and that it offers confirmation of a transaction they have long suspected but could never prove. Pakistani officials, including those named as recipients of the cash, have called the letter a fake. Khan, whom some in his country have hailed as a national hero, is at odds with many Pakistani officials, who have said he acted alone in selling nuclear secrets.
Nevertheless, if the letter is genuine, it would reveal a remarkable instance of corruption related to nuclear weapons. U.S. officials have worried for decades about the potential involvement of elements of Pakistan’s military in illicit nuclear proliferation, partly because terrorist groups in the region and governments of other countries are eager to acquire an atomic bomb or the capacity to build one.
Because the transactions in this episode would be directly known only to the participants, the assertions by Khan and the details in the letter could not be independently verified by The Washington Post. A previously undisclosed U.S. investigation of the corruption at the heart of the allegations — conducted before the letter became available — ended inconclusively six years ago, in part because the Pakistani government has barred official Western contact with Khan, U.S. officials said.
By all accounts, Pakistan’s confirmed shipments of centrifuges and sophisticated drawings helped North Korea develop the capacity to undertake a uranium-based route to making the bomb, in addition to its existing plutonium weapons. Late last year, North Korea let a group of U.S. experts see a uranium-enrichment facility and said it was operational.
The letter Khan released, which U.S. officials said they had not seen previously, is dated July 15, 1998, and marked “Secret.” “The 3 millions dollars have already been paid” to one Pakistani military official and “half a million dollars” and some jewelry had been given to a second official, says the letter, which carries the apparent signature of North Korean Workers’ Party Secretary Jon Byong Ho. The text also says: “Please give the agreed documents, components, etc. to . . . [a North Korean Embassy official in Pakistan] to be flown back when our plane returns after delivery of missile components.”
The North Korean government did not respond to requests for comment about the letter.